Alcohol is described as a social lubricant for good reason. People tend to feel a bit more relaxed and talkative after they’ve had a glass or two. This is an activity that humans have indulged in for at least 10,000 years. Alcohol is universal across the globe, although it is less tolerated in some societies. Most people who use this drug will never experience any real problems because of their consumption. It is only those who indulge in hazardous drinking who tend to experience the more negative aspects of alcohol usage. Excessive usage is not only damaging for the individual; it can also cause great harm to those around them.
It can be hard for most people to decide how much of something is too much. A person might claim that they have a few glasses of wine every night but never experience any problems. The difficulty is that alcohol can cause a lot of damage without the drinker even realizing it. There is no need for a person to be a fall-down drunk in order for them to suffer from the hazards of drinking alcohol.
There are guidelines available as to what might be considered a safe level of alcohol usage. It is recommended that men do not drink more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks a day. Women and older adults should stick to not more than one alcoholic drink per day. The guidelines also recommend that anyone who has ever had a problem with alcohol should refrain altogether.
Drinking above the safe limit is risky, but this is something that a lot of people do from time to time. It is only when these individuals cross the line into alcohol abuse that it really becomes hazardous. This level of dangerous drinking can occur without the individual becoming physically addicted. The DSM-IV describes alcohol abuse as:
* Alcohol usage interferes with the individual’s ability to meet their responsibilities
* The person ends up in dangerous situations when drinking
* They may have legal problems due to alcohol use
* They still continue to drink even though it is causing problems in their life
If even one of the above criteria applies to an individual they could be said to be abusing alcohol.
There are a number of different hazards associated with the excessive use of alcohol including:
* Health problems such as liver damage
* Increased risk of becoming a victim of crime
* The individual is more likely to have an accident
* Increased sexual promiscuity leading to unplanned pregnancies and STDs
* Drinking too much can mean that the individual does not perform well in education or at work
Those individuals who abuse alcohol without becoming physically addicted can find it easy to quit with the right motivation. Once they realize the dangers of their actions, this can be enough for them to change their behavior. A lot of people will go through a period of their life where they abuse alcohol. They later snap out of it when they settle down to make a family or focus on their career. It is rare for such people to require any type of strong intervention like rehab. Health education and support is usually enough for them to change. If they continue to abuse alcohol though, they are highly likely to become physically addicted.
If the individual continues to abuse alcohol over a long period of time, it will eventually lead to physical addiction. The body adapts to having this substance in the blood stream so well that it finds it hard to function without it. If the person were to stop drinking, the body will respond by exhibiting withdrawal symptoms. These can be quite severe and in some cases lead to death. This is why those who have abused alcohol over a long period of time may be required to go through withdrawal under medical supervision.
The move from alcohol abuse to alcohol dependence can happen slowly. It is unlikely that the individual will even notice. One of the difficulties for treating addiction is that it is accompanied by denial about the problem. The DSM-IV lists the symptoms of alcohol dependence as:
* Increased tolerance for alcohol
* Withdrawal symptoms when blood alcohol levels fall too low
* The individual becomes increasingly obsessed with alcohol
* It is difficult for the person to reduce the amount of alcohol being consumed
* The individual continues to drink despite obvious negative consequences
* More time spent drinking and increased consumption
* A loss of interest in non-alcohol related activities
Anyone who exhibits more than three of the above criteria can be said to be physically dependent on alcohol.
Once an individual becomes physically addicted to alcohol, it becomes a lot harder for them to quit. The mental attachment to drinking is a lot stronger and the physical consequences of withdrawals can keep people trapped. Those who do manage to escape this addiction may require extensive support and a period in rehab. If they have developed an alcohol dependency, they can never drink safely again.
The social circle that the individual belongs to can have an impact on their life. How members of this group act will become the norm. Even if this group is involved in undesirable behavior, it can feel natural. Those who spend a lot of time with heavy drinkers will find that there is a lot of pressure to conform to this behavior. This is why it is often necessary for those who are trying to break away from hazardous drinking to spend more time with non-drinking friends.
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